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Nov 01, 2013

Does size or age matter when it comes to delivering a good customer experience in manufacturing?

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By Martin Hill, Vice President Marketing for Epicor Software in EMEA

It shouldn’t. However, recent research by IDC Manufacturing Insights  shows that 75% of the large manufacturers (5,000 employees or more) surveyed, indicated that their ERP is a vital platform for delivering a good customer experience, due to the levels of ERP integration and higher instances of single ERP systems being used. In contrast, for companies with 100–1,000 employees, over 90% of respondents indicated that their ERP has limited, little or no contribution towards the delivery of a good customer experience.

A customer centric culture should not be exclusive to the big boys. Every company, regardless of size, should be endeavouring to apply and optimise the right technology to help put customers at the very heart of their business.

At its simplest it should be about making quality products at a competitive price, having short production lead times and delivering on time, every time. But increasingly it’s more than just about features, price and delivery, it’s about collaboration and relationship with customers – how they order goods or interact with you to adjust orders or raise an issue. And then there is the internal aspect that can enhance this customer experience. Accessing and analysing data to provide insight and decision making capabilities relating to customer orders, for example, or understanding how many customer complaints have been logged around a particular product or service. To be successful, the data needs to be available anywhere and anytime but the real key is how you react to this information. Customer responsiveness is at its peak if you can respond to a situation and communicate with the customer quickly, regardless of whether you are at your desk or on the road.

These are just some of the aspects of a customer experience which can breed loyalty, repeat business and differentiation, without having to always win business based on price. Furthermore these processes and ways of working are all underpinned by the technology and functionality in the next generation of ERP systems that are available for mid-sized and smaller companies.

Available in various deployment forms and with various financing options, engaging with and serving customers better is not something that just larger companies can afford.

The fact is that the smaller companies continue to have a higher instance of home-grown, multiple ERP systems, or even no ERP at all, which is almost certainly why they say that their ERP has limited, little or no contribution towards the delivery of a good customer experience. Their often outdated and inefficient infrastructure results in data being stored in too many different IT systems that are loosely connected, making it difficult to influence customer satisfaction even at the most basic level.

Old technologies can stop a company dead in its tracks, preventing it from taking customer experience to the next level. It hinders a company and drains them of the inspiration needed for the management team to identify, justify and implement solutions that truly differentiate a company from its competitors.

If this is something you can relate to, perhaps it’s time for you to consider if this situation is stopping you serving and retaining customers in the best way possible, and what impact this has on your bottom line.

It’s not just size that matters, age is also relevant. Mature companies in mature markets are forced to move from tactics such as price and delivery to other ways of differentiating themselves. Growth for them depends on a more mature approach to customer experience to win market share, they simply don’t have a choice.

But if your market isn’t mature, if you’re growing by competing purely on price and delivery, why should you bother with customer experience beyond this? Because your market and competitors will mature around you, perhaps faster than you anticipate and those that will win in the long run will be the ones offering the superior customer experience. Adopting the right technologies and applications now means you can compete on today’s terms today, and tomorrow’s terms tomorrow.

Smart companies build a platform for today with an eye on tomorrow. They avoid having to rip-and-replace systems by working with visionary partners who have an eye focussed on the future. Their partners don’t force them to build capabilities with no immediate ROI that they don’t need today, they help them to build on their systems and add capabilities at the time they need them, like when the market matures, prices have stabilised and the customer demands a better experience. And of course they do it quickly with the intention of keeping their customers ahead of their competitors. That’s inspiring business!

With an emphasis on total cost of ownership, ERP systems for mid-sized manufacturing companies are available based on the latest technologies with the most recent application developments. With ease-of-use, responsiveness and flexibility at their very core, such systems are designed for modern manufacturers and how they need to work to stay competitive. This means that as companies grow, their customers and their ERP system can remain at the heart of the business.

 

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